By Nicole S. Mitton
Grant Writer/Communications Specialist
Heart disease describes several problems related to plaque accretion in the walls of the arteries. The arteries narrow as the plaque builds up, making it more difficult for blood to flow. This creates a risk for heart attack or stroke. Other types of heart disease include heart failure, an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and heart valve problems.
- A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die. Most people survive their first heart attack and return to their normal lives, but must make lifestyle changes.
- An ischemic stroke (the most common type) happens when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked, usually from a blood clot. Brain cells die when the blood supply to a part of the brain shuts off. The result is the inability to carry out functions like walking or talking. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel within the brain bursts, usually caused by uncontrolled hypertension.
- Heart failure (or congestive heart failure) means the heart cannot pump blood as well as it should and is not meeting the body’s need for blood and oxygen. Heart failure can get worse if untreated.
- Arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. The heart can beat too slowly, too fast, or irregularly. Bradycardia is when the heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute, while tachycardia is when the heart rate is more than 100 beats per minute.
- Heart valve problems occur when heart valves do not open enough to allow the blood to flow through as it should (stenosis), or when the heart valves do not close properly and allow blood to leak through (regurgitation). Mitral valve prolapse is when the valve leaflets bulge or prolapse back into the upper chamber.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), coronary heart disease alone costs the United States about $109 billion each year in the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the US, including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. For Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Asians or Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer. Around 600,000 men and women die of heart disease every year. In 2009, more than half of the deaths due to heart disease were in men. However, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that another type of heart disease, called coronary microvascular disease (MVD), mainly affects women and is not as well understood as CHD.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
In Boston, black and Hispanic residents have higher rates of heart disease hospitalizations. According to the Boston Public Health Commission’s “Health of Boston 2012-2013,” heart disease hospitalization rates rose in Mattapan (up 30%) and North Dorchester (up 9%) between 2005 and 2010. These two neighborhoods, which house many Whittier Street Health Center patients, buck the citywide trend of decreased hospitalizations due to heart disease. In addition, North Dorchester saw a slight increase in heart disease mortality (up 4%). Meanwhile, in Whittier’s main service area of Roxbury, the average annual rate of heart disease hospitalization is 31% higher than the Boston average.
It is important to know that sickness and death from heart disease and stroke can be prevented. Lowering you blood pressure and cholesterol will reduce your risk of being hospitalized for or dying of heart disease. You can do the following to protect your heart:
- Follow your doctor’s instructions and stay on your medications.
- Eat a healthy diet—lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and small amounts of salt, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
- Take a brisk 10-minute walk, 3 times a day, 5 days a week.
- If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about your risk of developing heart disease, you can call our Adult Medicine Department for an appointment at 617-989-3115, or schedule a visit online at https://wshc.org/make-an-appointment/.
February is Heart Health Month. We invite you to share our community’s journey toward heart health during our Heart Healthy Month Celebration on February 11, from 11 AM to 2 PM. There will be cooking demonstrations, Meet-and-Greet sessions with health care providers, remarks from participants of Whittier’s Cardiovascular Community Health program, light refreshments, and other heart-centered activities. We hope to see you there!